A dedicated activist who advocated for New Bedford’s neighborhoods, Loretta Bourque (1920-2018) was referred to as “Mayor of the South End” for her special commitment to this section of the city. Through the Cove Street Neighborhood Association, Loretta led efforts against such problems as negligent absentee landlords, crime and drugs. Loretta’s influence was a key factor that led the New Bedford City Council to pass the city’s Problem Properties Ordinance.
A dedicated activist who advocated for New Bedford’s neighborhoods, Loretta Bourque (1920-2018) was referred to as “Mayor of the South End” for her special commitment to this section of the city. To make New Bedford a better place, Loretta worked to address such problems as negligent absentee landlords, crime and drugs.
A lifelong resident of New Bedford’s South End, Loretta was the daughter of Italian immigrants Carmine and Grazia (Donato) Marinelli. She was an active member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish at St. James Church, where she would regularly exchange ideas with Pastor Craig Pregana after Mass each Sunday. Loretta graduated with honors from New Bedford High School in 1938. That May, she received a National Honor Society Scholarship to attend Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Due to the poverty of the Great Depression, she needed to find work and was unable to attend college. From 1961 until her retirement in 1980, Loretta was a clerk and then office supervisor at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School (GNBVT).
Loretta was active in numerous community and church organizations throughout her life. In 1963, she joined the South End Civic Association and served as vice-president and interim president. She helped organize the Catholic Social Services Food Pantry and coordinated the pantry’s volunteers. In June of 1989, Loretta became a founding member of the Cove Street Neighborhood Association and was its president, meeting monthly to discuss concerns of residents and to move these ideas to local leaders. Loretta also led the planning of the Association’s annual events, including the Cove Street Neighborhood Association Family Fun Day as well as the Halloween Parade and the Holiday Tree Lighting. For 60 years, she was a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, where she made sure there were enough funds to face emergencies.
Honors and awards acknowledged Loretta’s persistent advocacy. She was named the 2000 Massachusetts Crime Watch Senior Citizen of the Year and the 2003 Standard-Times New Bedford Woman of the Year. In 2011, the City of New Bedford, led by Mayor Scott Lang, named the Loretta Bourque Park in her honor on Ruth and Salisbury Streets in her beloved South End. She was a 2018 GNBVT Career Achievement Inductee.
Upon her death on August 28, 2018, New Bedford leaders celebrated her legacy. Mayor Jon Mitchell stated, “Loretta was a force of nature. She was intelligent, had boundless energy, and was committed to her core that the Cove Street neighborhood where she lived for almost 100 years received the same attention and care as every other in the city.” He added that she continued to lead neighborhood meetings and hold public officials accountable even in her late 90s. Former Mayor Frederick Kalisz remembered Loretta as a fearless leader in the fight against crime, corrupt absentee landlords and drugs. At-Large City Councilor Ian Abreu posted on Facebook, “Loretta especially loved the children of our city, and always wanted to make sure they were safe and advocated for.” Abreu explained that Loretta’s influence was a key factor that led the City Council to pass the city’s Problem Properties Ordinance.
Ann O’Leary, Emily Bourne Research Fellow
- Brown, Curt. “Longtime New Bedford Activist Loretta Bourque Remembered.” SouthCoast Today, 29 Aug. 2018, http://www.southcoasttoday.com/news/20180829/longtime-new-bedford-activist-loretta-bourque-remembered.
- “Loretta A. Bourque, 98.” SouthCoast Today, 29 Aug. 2018, http://www.southcoasttoday.com/obituaries/20180829/loretta-a-bourque-98.
- Urbon, Steve. “Family, Friends Tell of the Loretta Bourque They Knew and Loved.” SouthCoast Today, 1 Sept. 2018, http://www.southcoasttoday.com/news/20180901/family-friends-tell-of-loretta-bourque-they-knew-and-loved.